Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How do you distinguish genealogy from family history?

I wanted to share what I wrote in answer to this question. It was part of an assignment for the ProGen study group I'm in. We are studying Tom Jone's new textbook Mastering Genealogical Proof.  

I think that it's good to emphasize Family History. Everybody can participate, and their participation is helpful both to current and future generations of Family Historians. If you are LDS, doing Family History is particularly relevant to past generations because it allows you to do temple work for the dead.

One of the goals of the study group is to bring an ancestor's brick wall and try to break through it together. I chose to research my husband's 5th great grandfather, Patrick McQueen. Like many Czech ancestors, he seemed to appear out of nowhere; a village of origin problem. Patrick arrived in Glengarry, Canada sometime in the late 1820's, after which he moved to Westville, Franklin, New York. He and his wife Ann Moran had 12 kids. His son William McQueen moved west and became the Sheriff of Salt Lake City. This was during the period of Mormon polygamy. My understanding is that William was specifically elected because he was Catholic (not Mormon), and that this somehow had to do with polygamy and anti-polygamy goings-on. Anyway, we are looking for his father's village of origin in Ireland. I refer to this in my answer. Just wanted to clarify in case there was confusion.

Back to the question. "How do you distinguish genealogy from family history?" 

To me, very roughly speaking, math/science : humanities as genealogy : family history. Math/science is results-oriented. Humanities are process-oriented.

My husband is a bioinformatics scientist. He likes systematic logic. He uses Bayesian statistics on a daily basis to test and prove theories. Brevity and simplicity matter. And if your argument makes sense, he will agree with you (handy!). 

As a French Teaching major, I was in the school of Humanities. In my French classes, as in most world language classes, we spent a lot of time practicing communicating. We talked a lot about ourselves and conversed with others in the class. We studied the tools (grammar, vocab) and put them into action by applying them in a self-relating context. Self-expression and communication are more important than brevity, or even consistency in content (what you say, not how you say it - the language rules matter). In my pedagogy classes, we also spent a lot of time reading and discussing methodology and theory, and then practicing the act of teaching (in class, in groups, practicums, and student teaching). 

Genealogy is the study of family relationships. It is a rigorous field that relates to hundreds of other disciplines. It demands thorough data gathering, strict source citation, logical analysis of the data, resolution of conflicts, and a written documentation of the results so that others can understand what you have done. The goal of genealogy is to prove relationships. It is a results-oriented field.

Family History is the study of family relationships in a context. It is also a rigorous field, but instead of being results-oriented, it is process-oriented. One goal of Family History may be to gain a relationship with a loved one who has died. In my opinion, the best way to reach this process-oriented goal would be to follow the same GPS model that is (or should be!) the standard in the field of Genealogy: thorough data gathering, strict source citation, logical analysis, conflict resolution, and written documentation. The end goal, however, is not the proof argument. It is the intangible kinship you gain with the person you researched.

Family History can be less intimidating than genealogy because you can start with yourself. You don't have to be an expert in anything except you. Because your goal is different, you can start small. I think every Genealogist probably starts as a Family Historian. To be an excellent Genealogist, you need a solid grounding in genealogy theory, for example: applying the GPS, learning the history of the place in which you are researching, paleography, etc. 

Ultimately, Family Historians experience firsthand the flaws in approaching the past without the GPS. They will want to learn more genealogy theory, perhaps become certified by some accrediting body, participate in conferences and local organizations, join some forums and/or progen study groups ;) etc.      
You can do Genealogy without doing Family History. When I do work for a client, I am doing Genealogy. My goal is to answer the client's question; it is results-oriented. 

You can do Family History without doing Genealogy. When I assemble a scrapbook (okay I never do this - but some of you might!) of photos of my kids, or read my ancestor's diary, I am doing Family History. My goal is to leave documentation of my family's life, or to gain a closeness to my family by reading their's; it is process-oriented. 

You can do both Genealogy and Family History at the same time. When I work to break through my brick wall, my goals are both to prove Patrick McQueen's Irish origin, and to gain an understanding, appreciation, and love for him. They are both goal and process-oriented.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Czech out this house!


This is a picture of me with my daughter (then 2) and my son (then 1) at the Hluchanek House located in the Czech Village at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange, Texas. My husband took the picture and was holding our other son (then 0 years old).

I really feel a special kinship with my deceased Czech ancestors, having had three children both spaced 14 months apart in age. So many of my ancestors had similar birth spacing. I wonder how they did it, because it's really, really, really difficult sometimes for me, and I have a world of modern conveniences that were unimaginable back then.

They had at least two distinct advantages over us, though. First, the expectation of children to engage in physical labor from a very young age, and second, easy access to grandparents (and other family). My kids "help" clean up their toys and spend a lot of time at the zoo/park/friend's house etc. With our recent move, we are the closest we have ever been to grandparents, and they are still an 11 hour car ride away! My Czech ancestors were not mobile in at all the same way as we are today. They lived and died in the same tiny village, near the majority of their kin. My favorite thing about when we lived in Utah was our proximity to so much family, but even then my parents were across the country in Massachusetts!

Anyway, if you can, you should visit the TCHCC. It's an incredible center with loads of genealogical resources in a surprisingly large library. The people are very friendly. And as far as a venue for events, it's got it all, including an enormous chandelier in the dining area.

The real gem, for my family at least, was the Czech village. We visited this place several times with extremely young children, and it was educational, fun, and helped me understand Texas Czech heritage on a different level. It will make your family history come alive to you, because you will be able to imagine on a physical level what their lives were like. How every day was filled with hard physical labor on the farm, how their homes may have been organized, how their family worked together to accomplish their goals.

On a sort of related note, we closed on our new home in Ankeny, Iowa yesterday.


I love Texas, and I also love Iowa. The people here are friendly, and the commute is much better for our family. There is also a large population of Czechs in the Midwest! Of course, the Chicago area, but also Nebraska and...Iowa! I am thrilled to be settling in, and able to focus more on my genealogy goals and client research.

Please contact me if you need some help with your research!